Friday, May 23, 2014

Neighbors Review

Oh my it’s been quite a hiatus for the Bearded Bullet.  My last review was the forgettable Kick Ass 2 last September.  Since then quite a few great, good, and awful films have come and gone.  Work, classes, and life in general just got in the way.  Fortunately, while the tedious “work” part hasn’t vacated itself from my life, the “classes” part did.  Now there’s much more room for fun stuff.  Like writing reviews!
I thought it would be fitting to ring in my return with my thoughts on the utterly hilarious Neighbors.  Director Nicholas Stoller’s (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement) latest effort stars the charming Rose Byrne and hilarious Seth Rogen as new parents to a little baby girl.  All seems well and good in the opening moments of the film, with the two having quite an interest in who their new neighbors, moving into the house adjacent to theirs, will be.  Turns out that it’s a fraternity!  This set-up sounds a little by-the-books and in some ways this is indeed a fairly uninspired plot device, but what could’ve been a paint-by-numbers wacky college movie turns out to be an hysterical comedy with some fantastic performances and interesting characters.

**Mild spoilers follow**

For me, the standout of the film is Zac Efron.  Yeah, you heard that right.  The High School Musical craze was a little past my time for the demographic it was targeting, so my only real exposure to him in general, let alone as an actor, was his work in the The Paperboy.  I loved the film and his performance even more.  He’s sort of in the same category as Channing Tatum to me.  I hate that he’s so attractive and insanely buff (and he’s shirtless for much of this film), but he’s just so charming and likeable with amazing comedic timing to boot.  In Neighbors Efron’s Teddy is the president of the fraternity moving in beside the Radnors.  The rest of the frat is comprised of some great comedic young actors including Dave Franco and Christopher Mintz-Plasse.  Teddy is your typical beefy frat jock – he’s determined to make a name for his frat and get their end-of-the-semester party on the “board.”  This is obviously a way for Teddy to make up for his academic inadequacies and is a sub-plot that is handled beautifully.  Teddy goes from being likeable, to borderline villainous, to sympathetic as we see his relationship with his best friend and vice president, Pete (Franco) waver and deteriorate over the film.
Surrounding this interesting character-work is a downright hilarious film.  A war breaks out between the Radnors and the frat.  The frat is stereotypically noisy and messy and the new parents need their sleep.  At the first the relationship between the two seems like it’s working out; the first party that the couple attend ends with an hilarious scene that cross-cuts between Byrne’s Kelly having an awkward discussion with a group of young women to Rogen/Efron debating which Batman is the best, with Efron doing his best Christian Bale impersonation.  Eventually Rogen calls the police (after promising not to and not being able to reach Teddy) and an escalating prank war ensues.  I won’t spoil any of the shenanigans that either group partakes in, as that’s part of what makes this movie so funny, but I will say that Neighbors toes the line of “mean” territory, a la The Hangover trilogy or even to a lesser degree Due Date.  Those R-comedies aren’t very nice, or happy – they’re just mean.  Efron’s Teddy takes things a bit too far, to the point where I actually, legitimately feared for the safety of the happy couple’s baby.  Thankfully the writers knew what they were doing and kept the antics in check just enough to make us worry but never go too far.
The entire cast just works so well together; Rogen and Byrne as a happy couple going through some issues, Rogen and Efron as frenemies, Efron and Franco as frat brothers, and Rogen and Ike Barinholtz as best friends.  Lisa Kudrow has a small but memorable role as does Christopher Mintz-Plasse.  You’ll love or hate Neighbors based upon the chemistry of the cast and if you end up caring about the characters.  Efron’s Teddy was written and portrayed with just enough aplomb to make us genuinely care about him in the end and what he’s going through as his time in college comes to an end (something that I too, at the time of writing, am experiencing myself).  Rogen is loveable and relatable as always, as is Byrne.  The two share some genuinely heartwarming and downright hilarious scenes that almost left me in tears.  Two words: breast milk.
Neighbors is one of the funniest films I’ve seen in the last few years, but it doesn’t just lie on its comedic laurels; buried within the cookie-cutter plot is a film with heart and real emotion about a young man dealing with what his life will entail after leaving college.  The film works on just about every level, to the point where I don’t really have many criticisms.  The film seemingly jumps through time with not a single care; at least one entire college semester (maybe entire year?) passes as the film goes from the frat moving in (with their house fully furnished in the next scene..) to the “end of the year party” that Teddy was looking forward to the whole film.  Tiptoeing dangerously into “mean” territory, Neighbors hits all the right notes on its way to being one of my favorite films of the year (so far anyway.)
Favorite quote: “Now he looks like J.J. Abrams!!” (almost no one in my audience got the joke L)
Neighbors is an hilarious, raucous comedy with real emotion and great character work.

The Bearded Bullet

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